Tehran Traffic Woes & Urban Challenges

People Desk
Tehran Traffic Woes  & Urban Challenges
Tehran Traffic Woes  & Urban Challenges

Traffic in Tehran has become intolerable and at times agonizing for residents, particularly during rush hours, due to the growing urban population and increasing private vehicular ownership.

The problem has exacerbated over the years and people face traffic jams at any given time of the day, even when it is well past midnight. While stepping out of their homes, they have to take hours, not minutes, into account while estimating the time needed to get to their destinations.

It is wishful thinking that traffic will ease in the daytime at least during the school summer holidays or with the temperatures soaring. Experience shows that traffic problems across the metropolis are not only not declining, but building up year-on-year with the burgeoning population.

Tehran is one of the 10 largest cities in the world and local authorities have been making efforts to reduce extreme motor traffic congestion that cause delays, wastage of time and acute health hazards from pollution. Improving public transportation and measures to reduce air pollution, congestion and pedestrian safety have failed to make any substantial changes.

Even the two low emission traffic zones (restricted zones based on vehicle registration number corresponding to odd or even days) and the central restricted zone which is open for public vehicles (buses, taxis and ambulances) have proved in vain to curb the maddening traffic.

Director of Tehran Municipality’s Traffic Control Center Homayoun Fattahi claims that people, especially the youth, driving around Tehran “looking for fun” is one of the reasons for the city’s traffic woes.

That might be partly true. Nightlife in Tehran is subdued and weekend or late night drives have become quite the norm with traffic police forced to close certain roadways to the large number of zooming cars.

However, the number of cars that enter the city far exceeds the urban capacity. By 2011, there were 4.2 million cars on the streets of Tehran. The number has surpassed five million currently for a traffic system that can handle only two million cars, while the road network extended by 20% only.

Officials have failed to address infrastructural problems or design roads that can accommodate the teeming vehicular traffic.

Efficient public transport could be the first step towards less congested traffic. However, with over 8 million residents in a city that lacks an effective public transport network, cars perforce have become the primary means of transport. Disregard for traffic rules and observation of lane discipline often leading to road rage, constant digging up of roads for public works and superficial attempts to fix traffic problems, poor quality and maintenance of major carriageways that need huge funding to be overhauled to quality standards, are among major factors aggravating the traffic problems.

 Upgrading Infrastructure

In April 2014, Hojat Behrooz, assistant to the deputy mayor for transportation, said Tehran Municipality plans to spend $10 billion as part of a five-year plan to upgrade the capital’s transport infrastructure to keep pace with urban population growth. “This may be a great leap,” he said in an interview with Bloomberg in Dubai. “With the deficiencies in the city public transport system, if it isn’t done we will certainly run into problems.”

Tehran’s subway network has no doubt expanded. It currently comprises four operational metro lines. A fifth is under construction.

In 2014, 815 million trips were made on Tehran Metro. As of April 2014, the metro runs a length of 152 km.

The metro is projected to have a length of 430 km with 9 lines when completed by 2028. But so far, it has proved inadequate to meet the demands of the ever-growing population despite the fact that it runs from 5.30 am to 11 pm on all days of the week with jam-packed coaches.

The Tehran Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) was officially inaugurated in 2008 on eight routes to facilitate vehicular traffic. In 2011, the BRT system had a network of 100 km transporting 1.8 million passengers on a daily basis as against the Tehran Metro that serves 3 million passengers a day. The figures show that people do in fact value and use public transport.

In the most recent study by ‘The Future of Urban Mobility Study (2014), a comprehensive global urban mobility benchmarking report in cooperation with International Association of Public Transport, Tehran ranked close to the bottom of the list of cities in terms of roads and traffic network.

 Transit Corridors

The Vision 2025 Plan is ambitious and comprehensive in scope and covers, among other issues, land-use and demand management. The municipality’s strategy focuses on making public transport (rail and BRT) the backbone of its network, complemented by enhanced bus services and taxis as well as the promotion of cycling and walking.

The objective is for public transport and paratransit to make up 75% of the modal share by 2030. The plan highlights the need to create a poly-centric city in place of the mono-centric configuration that currently exists. The infrastructure needed is 430 km of railways, supported by BRT and interconnected at over 80 interchange stations, to achieve optimum connectivity.

Urban planners should not lose sight of the need to progressively increase the geographical coverage of the public transport network and the frequency of services.

One has to wait and see if the vision will translate into any tangible infrastructural changes in public services. Until adequate and quality public transport is ensured for the masses, and roads infrastructures have undergone refurbishments, the traffic problems cannot be blamed on people who use private transport.